Actuarial careers in banking: Clare Beale

Meeting

Clare Beale, member of the IFoA Banking member interest Group (MIG) talks about how she moved from a career as a life actuary into banking and pension trusteeship. 

Tell us a bit about your role and background
I’m a life actuary by background. I worked for a life insurer initially, before moving into consulting, followed by a move into banking and later pension trusteeship. 

My move to banking came in 2010 when I moved from consulting to take a role within the European regional insurance team at HSBC – whilst initially working in insurance I could see the potential opportunities to work more broadly across the bank at a later date. Various opportunities and strategic changes increased my profile and in 2014 I was asked to head the independent model validation function for the bank globally across all lines of business. This was an incredible role, which provided a valuable insight into all parts of the bank and was a key moment in my career trajectory. 

Given the increased profile of model risk management within banks since the financial crisis, this led to further opportunities and I became both the Global Head of Model Risk Management and Model Risk Steward at HSBC, roles I held until early 2020. I became a trustee director for the HSBC UK employee pension scheme in 2016, the largest in the Group at approximately £35 billion, for which I have chaired both the Audit & Risk and Asset & Liability Committees.

What made you choose banking as a career path?
After moving to London and working in consulting with PwC for a number of years, I was seconded to work with the Head of Assurance and his executive, helping to shape and implement strategy across the wider practice in the UK. This opened my eyes to the fact that there was a world outside of insurance and financial services, and I was slightly envious of the accountants who got to work across a number of industry sectors with their exciting-sounding clients! So I decided to see if I could apply my skills in a broader context, escaping what sometimes felt like the ‘pigeon hole’ of being a specialist. The HSBC opportunity came up and as I was also keen to use my language skills moving to a large bank with a global footprint was a great way to achieve the additional exposure, as well as providing an opportunity to see different countries in the process. 

How did the actuarial skill set equip you for a career in banking?
The actuarial skill set has been incredibly useful and, in my view, provides a great professional grounding – we have a unique mix of quantitative skills, risk management, and professional scepticism, and are used to applying these to different business contexts on an end-to-end basis and understanding the ‘so whats’. We’re very comfortable dealing with uncertainty, used to articulating complexity in language that others can engage with, and have a strong sense of integrity and duty of care.

What are some of the most interesting discoveries you’ve made while working in banking?
The actuarial skill set can bring a huge amount of value to a banking environment; you just need to understand the problem and learn the language in order to demonstrate that – start by getting to know the business lines, the products sold, the P&L and the relevant balance sheets. Learn the ‘language’ that comes with these, given the people that you will have to communicate with, and then apply your knowledge. 

What have been some of the challenges?
When I moved from an insurance role to a banking role, I felt as if I needed to prove my worth all over again; being an actuary from an insurance background means absolutely nothing in a banking context! So although the opportunities are great, you need to be comfortable with losing the sense of ‘being special’ until you’ve proved your worth and demonstrated the value you can add – so my advice is to roll up your sleeves, jump into the spotlight and show them what you can do. 

Another challenge comes from the scale of the opportunity – given the role that banks play within society, it can be a little mind-blowing at times to stop and reflect on the size of numbers involved and the importance of our roles within that context.

Do you see yourself remaining in banking?
I’m open minded and not wedded to any one route to be honest – I’ll go where there are stimulating opportunities, interesting people and where I feel that I can add value. Currently, my skills and experience lend themselves most naturally to insurance, banking, asset management and pensions, but things are continually evolving!

Where would you like to progress to next?
The last few years working in model risk have been really interesting, particularly with the increasing use of technology and the evolving regulatory backdrop following the last financial crisis. I’m now looking to broaden my risk exposure further with a CRO role before transitioning to a non-executive career.

 


You can find out about more about career opportunities in banking, as well as a range of support and resources for starting out in a career in banking, on our Banking Lifelong Learning web page.